Friday, January 30, 2009


It's snowing outside, and I love how the neighborhood outside my window is encased in a soft layer of snow.  Everything is rounded and softened; the sharp lines of the stiff, tall Pittsburgh houses seem relaxed, just a little.  It's a time to be curled up in front of a fire, but I'm curled up in front of my computer, pillow for my back and afghan for my lap, cat at my feet.  In some ways the computer may have taken the place of the roaring fire that kept us warm through a cold night.  Or maybe it's more like being curled up with a book in front of a fire.

At any rate the weather outside is not the same as the weather in Azeroth where I'm currently questing in Stranglethorn Vale, a coastal rainforest where it regularly storms.  Right now it's pouring rain and difficult to see as I pick my way through thick brush, trying to avoid apes and panthers, tigers and pirates.  

This is both the beauty and the darkness of video games.  For a space of time you can separate yourself completely from whatever the weather is outside, or the situation.  I look up from time to time to watch the snow falling and admire the softness and beauty of it, then turn back to a hot, steaming jungle where the rain pounds just as it does in real life, and sounds just like it does in real life.   I am in a strange world where I'm not completely separated from the real world and its weather, but  mostly.  And I could let myself fall even more deeply into the imagined world if I could.  I could forget, for a moment, about the deep troubles our country is suffering from, I could forget that some of my friends are losing their jobs, that my son is having to donate blood and sell his belongings to pay his rent, that there's no amount of money I could send him that would help his life to be sustainable at this moment, that his chances of finding a job are almost zero at this precise moment.  Even though I had nightmares last night about my son, I can enter into Azeroth and put those nightmares aside for a moment, fight monsters that I actually can beat.  

Although the world Blizzard has created is astonishingly beautiful and horrifying and mimics life in many ways,  it is still romanticizes poverty and suffering.  No one has to give blood to pay their rent in Azeroth.  No one is selling their books and CDs and music equipment to buy food in Azeroth.  If you're poor in Azeroth you can always earn money by mining or selling herbs or equipment or potions you can make.  The only blood that's spilled is when you kill monsters or are killed yourself, and even then, no blood is ever shown on the screen.

My son's arm is bruised and swollen from the nurse who last took his blood.  There are never any bruises in Azeroth, never anything swollen.  In this world we don't want to be reminded of the wages of suffering.

Wednesday, January 28, 2009


I have been reading Hamlet on the Holodeck: the future of narrative in cyberspace  by Janet Murray and find myself deeply engaged with the book, reading it as if I were eating a delicious 10 course meal and can't wait to get to the next course--or chapter in this case.  Murray looks at the kinds of imaginative worlds that now exist in cyberpace from the perspective of someone with a literature background, and I really appreciate the depth that perspective brings to the understanding of narrative.  She's also well-versed in science-fiction narrative in general, including the Star Trek series, and since I know every Star Trek episode from almost every incarnation of the series, I'm right there with her.  

It's interesting to me that I find myself more engaged with this book than a recent book I assigned students to read for our memoir class.  The book they read is a good read:  it's funny and poignant and offers comic insights into the life of a young woman in America and her exploits and travels.  But I find as I age I want even more from a book.  I remember a line from a poem by Brenda Hillman that was at least partly about forced entertainment (i.e., we WILL all go as a family on vacation to Disneyland and we WILL enjoy every minute of it):  "Fun," she wrote, "is sad."  In order to enjoy myself I seem to need to be challenging myself in new ways and learning something new.  Learning, for me, is fun.  Being challenged by a book or a game or some new knowledge is, for me, fun.  Being entertained, especially entertainment that is being done to me, rather than something I'm participating in, is not fun.  This is why I do not stay up late with my husband to watch the Jay Leno show.  I would rather retreat to the world of Azeroth where I can kill orcs and save polluted kingdoms, and discover new people and new lands.  

This is perhaps also why I enjoy political satire over any kind of writing or speech that is merely funny.  I can listen to John Stewart, for example, without getting bored or feel that I'm wasting my time.  

It's harder, as I get older, to find writings that really really engage me, that break some frozen sea inside of me, that teach me something new.  This is also why, I think, I'm so interested in the possibilities of narrative and imagination in video games and cyberspace.  It's just beginning to be explored and it feels as exiting to me as modernist poetry did at one time.  

Sunday, January 25, 2009


There are three different realms available for play in WoW:  one is a Player-vs-Player realm where players can attack each other at any time without rhyme or reason.  Another is a Role-Playing realm where all players agree to stay in character, and where no player can attack another without the specific consent of the other.  The third is a role-playing realm that allows PvP attacks. 

I prefer the Role-Playing realm because I don't like the idea of having to worry about players attacking me for no reason, and because I'd rather play the game against (and with) the environment.  Players will sometimes ask if I want to duel and I always say no.  Sometimes they don't take no for an answer and keep following you around and asking for a duel, and sometimes they insult you, hoping, I guess that the insult will provoke you to attack them. Such was the case when one player whispered to me once  how awful my armor was.  Instead of attacking him, I just became sad and insecure about my armor.

One recent interchange that I found disturbing involved another player,  a blood-elf, who hid himself in an area where players would normally go to turn in quests.  He had PvP turned on and somehow was able to attack me (I haven't quite figured out how this happened yet, as I didn't have PvP turned on.)  At any rate he was at least 10 levels above me so he would have killed me within seconds.  I pretended to be dead (you can "feign death") and watched him, and an associate, who also appeared from nowhere as they proceeded to kill my pet raptor.  He and the associate then began to spit on me, and emoted that they were "laughing maniacally."  They kept spitting on me, and once they realized I wasn't really dead, attacking me until I died. 

I figured they'd had their fun and would move on, so I resurrected (this is a process whereby you find your spirit at a nearby cemetery and travel back to your corpse where you resurrect at half the health you had).  It is considered bad taste to attack someone when they have just resurrected because it brings no honor to the attacker:  the victim is already in a considerably weakened state and easy to kill.  

These two were waiting for me, though, and they attacked, spit and "laughed maniacally" until I died again.  This time I didn't come back but stayed at the cemetery where you can ressurrect for a considerable penalty if you don't want to try to find your body.

Of course I've witnessed cruelty of all sorts in the real world, and this small bit of cruelty in a virtual world shouldn't have bothered me as much as it did.  At the end of the day I didn't lose anything that valuable, just a bit of time, and I wasn't physically hurt.  But it did bother me, maybe because the kind of cruelty that bothers me most comes from those I can't see.  

Recently my real-life car was vandalized:  some unknown person or persons spray-painted "BLOODS" all over the entire passenger side of the car, covering both car doors as well as the windows.  I have been unable to get the paint off and will wind up having to have the entire car painted.  Our garage was also vandalized around the same time, with odd symbols from a gang around the neighborhood painted all over one side of it.  When the vandalism happened, I wanted to know who had done it.  It mattered to me.  I wanted to face the vandals and tell them what cowards I thought they were.  If you're going to be cruel, I would have said, be cruel to my face.  Do something to me where I can see your face, not in a dark ally at night when I'm sleeping.  

And I wish I had had the opportunity to see the faces of my attackers in the virtual world as well.  Maybe it wouldn't have mattered.  Cruelty is cruelty whether you know the cruel ones or not, whether you can see their faces and smell what they had for lunch on their breath or not. But it seems to me that cruelty in a virtual environment is especially cowardly and deserves a special place in hell.  

Tuesday, January 20, 2009


I seem to have a huge need for significant down time in order to be as productive as I am in my professional life.  And I am productive, and efficient when I am writing, teaching or administering the MFA program.  But when I'm "off" I want my off-time to be efficient and productive as well.  I used to read for fun; home after a long day teaching or grading essays or commenting on poems or writing myself I'd curl up with a few books for fun.  But reading no longer seems like fun to me. I spent 90% of my life reading books and student work, and I want to do something else in my down time.   So games provide me with a way to be "intensely idle."  At the end of an hour playing a game at night I feel invigorated and challenged, as if I had taken a brief vacation, and in a way, I have.  I've gone to another world for a hour, one that didn't cost anything but a few pennies at most, and hardly any fuel fossils.  I'm ready to go back to reading and writing and teaching.  

But I think I must also have a gene for wanting to have fun, if that's possible.  My husband thinks my family has some kind of addiction gene and that I have found a way to make that a positive thing by becoming obsessed with whatever it is I'm doing, whether it's planning a conference, teaching a class, doing research for a book or playing a video game.  There may be some truth to that, but I think there's also something there about having fun.  My parents loved to have parties--in their early years they danced and bowled and had people over for escargot and card games.  No one else on our block did anything like that.  I should mention, maybe, that we were Catholic, and it always seemed to me that Catholics had way more fun than Protestants.

At any rate, I also remember my grandmother  liking to have fun, to dress up, to play games with us, joke with us.  We all liked very much the partying that went on at Mardi Gras, the disguise, the fun of it.  We were not a sober family, although my father worked very hard, at two jobs and sometimes more when he was alive.  He played very hard, though, when he wasn't working.  

When I was a little girl, one of my favorite past times was playing with paper dolls.  I loved cutting them out oh so perfectly, then cutting out their clothes, putting them on and taking them off, making them have dinner, or go out on dates, or fight with each other.  I loved doing the same, later, with Barbie dolls, dressing them up and imagining different situations for them.  On rainy days I'd sit all my dolls and stuffed animals in chairs on our porch, set up a chalk board in front of them, and play "school."  

It's clear to me that the playing I did as a child prepared me for some of the successes I had later in life:  it engaged and honed my imagination, and allowed me to imagine scenarios where I was, in fact, the leader, faced with crucial decisions (what should I do about the fact that my Midge dolls didn't seem to want to learn how to spell? Or that Chatty Cathy didn't want to learn to read?).

Sometimes I think the electronic characters I have online are just a more advanced version of  the paper dolls I had as a child. For what might all this killing and dying, over and over again in the game, be preparing me?

Sunday, January 18, 2009

Angel in the House

When I first began playing WoW (World of Warcraft) in a serious way, and by that I mean about seven hours a week during which time I also journaled about my experiences, I thought I was a freak.  I wanted to understand what it was my son found in these computer games, and I figured  that  most of the people playing  were young boys.  I've since learned that women represent 38-40% of the gaming market, with most women playing games about 7.4 hours a week.  Which means that of the over 10 million who play WoW, about 4 million are likely to be women.  There is even a website ( for women who play.  

I've also learned that many women who play are over 40 and college-educated.  One women, a PhD anthropologist, spoke of "gamer shame"--that it's difficult for her to talk with her colleagues about the fact that she spends her free time playing games.  Many stay-at-home moms play games after they put the kids to bed.  I've  met a number of retired women professionals who play regularly.  Other women I met through the game admitted they had originally gotten interested in the game through their sons.  Some joked that they were addicted.  

And yet marketing for games continues to be addressed to a primarily male audience; the IGDA reports that 88.5% of game designers are men.  This is one reason why has initiated scholarships for girls to attend National Computer camps during the summer. Ubisoft, a large independent video game creator in Europe has also formed a group of female gamers for girls who may have been too intimidated to play games online. Women have also begun to complain about the objectivation and hypersexuality of some of the female online characters, so much so that Lara Croft's excessive breasts have been slimmed down some in the most recent version of that game.  Games that feature violence against women or protrayals of women as weak and helpless are targeted by groups like NOW and Media Report to Women.

I have  a couple of different avatars I play in Wow.  One of my favorites in a dranei hunter.  The dranei (the name means "exiled ones") walk upright but have horns and horse-like legs.  The females have large breasts and large behinds with tails that swish like horses do when swatting flies.   The clothes and armor available this character are tight, sexy and often more revealing than anything I'd wear in real life, at least since turning 50.  But she kicks ass.  She can beat the pants off of any monster or male character who messes with her, as long as they aren't too many levels higher.

I can't wait to see what will happen when the number of women designing games increases.  Game developers are reported to be making "kinder and gentler" games to appeal to women, but I think there's lots more that a woman's persective can offer.  We can bring a subtler, more nuanced approach to gaming--one that involves heart and intellect as much as strength and agility. 

Meanwhile I take some pleasure in not so gently subverting the purposes of the game designers in WoW.  In addition to the sexy dranei, I also have a "Death Knight" atavar: these are real killing machines with awesomely frightening armor and huge glowing swords they carry on their backs, swords that are almost as long as the the character is tall.  Despite the fact that the character is built for battle, I have turned mine into an herbalist and alchemist. Last night I played for about half an hour after a tough day at work. I didn't feel like killing things (although truth be told I often come home from work wanting to kill anything and everything), so I had my atavar ride her horse (a "Death Charger,") to a forest where I knew there were lots of herbs and flowers to be picked.  I then had her walk through the forest in all her glorious scary armor, sword glowing, looking for mageroyal and silverleaf, briarthorn and bruiseweed, avoiding wolves and monsters, and sometimes stopping to brew up a healing potion I'll share later with my online friends. 

Virginia Woolf wrote that women writers need to learn to "kill the angel in the house," her point being that women need to be tough-minded, wary of sentimentality and too much kindness.  We need to understand that violence and destruction is implicit in any act of creation.   My Death Knight understands this.  But she also understands that there needs to be flowers at the table and that wounds need to be healed, and she doesn't mind sometimes being the person to pick the flowers and heal the wounds.  In fact, she likes it.  Just don't mess with her when she's in a bad mood.

Friday, January 16, 2009


I've been asked to review a book that is a collection of essays about darkness (Let There be Night:  Testimony on Behalf of the Dark, ed. Paul Bogard, University of Nevada Press).  I've only read a few of the essays so far, but the concept of the book intrigues me:  it's environmental--pure darkness is becoming extinct as increased light pollution keeps us from experiencing real darkness. We rarely see stars in the cities anymore because of the way artificial light affects our ability to see stars.  

So who cares anyway?  Why do we need to experience dark?  There are biological answers to that question that I can't really evaluate but that seem logical (for example that we evolved as humans in an environment that included darkness and our bodies are adapted to it and are negatively affected when it is taken away), but there is also a spiritual comfort, I would say, in darkness, especially that utter velvety dark that you can experience still sometimes outside  in rural or wild areas.  It's a dark that's not frightening but comforting, maybe like the dark of our mother's womb.  We were, after all, conceived in darkness, nurtured in the darkness of our mother's womb and only exposed to light at birth, so it makes sense that we would feel comforted by darkness. Isn't it interesting that darkness gets such a bad rap in popular culture.  Nothing good ever happens in the movies when it gets dark.  Dark landscapes, such as forests and swamps, rarely harbor anything positive--that's where the monsters hide.  

Sunday, January 11, 2009


"Reviewing books and TV shows is easy; as easy as sitting in a chair and passing judgement. . . . By contrast, reviewing new media is a headache . . . . Where television critics lean back, video-game critics lean forward, working wrists and feet and eyes, inputting information and advancing many, many levels in extremely hard games in order to work up even the baseline authority to write a capsule review."
  --Virginia Heffernan, "The Burden of Interactivity," New York Times magazine, January 11, 2009

Write what you know, we often tell writing students, but that advice doesn't help much if you want to write from inside of a culture that is foreign to you.  And why would you want to do that? Why would I,  for example, someone who has made a small reputation as a poet and memoirist writing out of what she knows: the culture of place, specifically  New Orleans and south Louisiana,  want to learn the culture of video games?  Why would I, someone deeply interested in nature and the environment, someone who has backpacked to Alaska and Ecuador, climbed glaciers and swum in Amazonian waters, someone who is director of a writing program inspired by Rachel Carson, want, at age 54, to spend hours and hours playing a video game in order to write about it?  

Because in order to grow as a writer you have to challenge everything you think is certain.  I watch my journalist husband expand his knowledge base every day in order to write with authority about news events.  It's also exciting--and scary-- to take on new projects that are vastly different in scope from the ones you've been working on.  

I do bring my love of nature and environment to the video game that I'm playing;  I'm extremely sensitive to the landscape of the game as it appears on the screen, and thoughtful about how the development of virtual "places" in video games might have affected the large numbers of kids who grew up playing them, and how it's affecting me.  I'm interested in how the choices you make in playing a game affect--or don't--the environment around you.  In some games, for example, you can pollute the waters, cause global warming to occur, make animals go extinct, fish all the fish out of the ocean.  In some cases the choices you make with respect to the virtual environment will cause your character or your character's culture to die.

Mother of a son diagnosed at one point with ADHD, I'm also interested in any intelligent research that connects attention deficit disorder, either positively or negatively, with the playing of video games.  I'm also interested in communicating with a generation of  boys and young men (like my son and step son) who have been immersed in these games for hours and hours on end.  What are they doing?  What are they thinking?  Is it all about killing or is there something else?

Saturday, January 10, 2009

Thursday, January 8, 2009

From The Cage to WOW

In the pilot for the original Star Trek series, broadcast in the early sixties (first called "The Cage," then remixed and repackaged as "The Menagerie"), the crew meets up with a fascinating race of big-headed beings known as the Talosians who have the ability to make illusions seem so real that people don't realize what they're experiencing is an illusion.  The narrative arc of "The Menagerie" involves Spock getting Christopher Pike, his former captain,  back to Talos IV, the home of the Talosians.  Because of their power of illusion, Talos IV has been deemed too dangerous for humans and has been ordered quaranteened. But Captain Pike is horribly disfigured from an  accident and is hardly human anymore: he can't speak, he can't talk and most of his body has disappeared into a huge space-age closed wheelchair.  Thanks to Spock, he winds up living on Talos IV where the Talosians, who have already given a disfigured girl the illusion of beauty, can give him the illusion of a healthy body and and Eden-like world in which to live.  And so they live, we are left to suppose, the two disfigured ones, happily ever after in their virtual world.

Frivolous science fiction, you say?  Think again.  Estimates say that from 5-20% of those who play video games are disabled.  Low estimated suggest that  525, 000 disabled users play World of Warcraft. There's a large deaf community that plays, as well as a number with severe physical motor disabilities such as Spinal Muscular Atrophy, as well as smaller visual impairment disorders and learning disorders.  A community group called Able Gamers is specifically targeted at disabled gamers, and acts as an advocacy group to gamemakers.  One gamer with Multiple Sclerosis who is paralyzed on one side of his body wrote, in a blog, "I feel like blowing things up and killing orcs.  That always makes me feel better.  Gaming therapy--mmmmmm."   

There's a great post with lots of information about disability and gaming and a link to a very moving video of a disabled gamer, Mike Phillips, who has spinal muscular atrophy, playing a game. 

And also see:  One Thumb to Rule Them All:

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Raped in Cyberspace

At first I don't realize what's happening.  

I am walking around the trade area of a large city, looking for a bank.  Lots of people are milling about, there is the noise of exchange and barter. I see a male character, a human hunter, sitting in the middle of the road drinking, a night elf dancing seductively next to him.  Focused on finding the bank, I am surprised when he comes up behind me and starts slamming himself into me over and over.  I can't defend myself because in the game his persona is that of an ally: he is  from my faction, the Alliance faction, and the game won't allow you to attack Allies.  I run away, but he follows, and every time I slow down he comes up from behind, and with a pulsing rhythm that mimics fucking  slams his character into my backside over and over. Disgusted, I run faster and slip through back streets in this city I know well until I find the bank and slip inside.  He doesn't follow.  

I deposit a few things in the bank that I don't want to carry around with me, hang around a bit, hoping the hunter will disappear, then head out in the the throng of people who are always hanging out in front of the bank.  I make my way through the crowd to an open space.  From behind me a boar, almost bigger than I am, comes at me,  slamming into me from the back as the hunter had done earlier.  There is a frenzy to his slamming, and even in cyberspace it is frightening.  I see the hunter standing behind the boar.  He is operating him; I am not sure how, exactly, but I know he is. I try to run again, but he and the boar follow.  I have only one option: hearthstone it home.  In my backpack I have a magic stone that will transport me home whenever I want to (sort of like Dorothy's red shoes).  I pull out the stone, wish myself home and within seconds I'm there, away from the hunter and his boar.

After I sign off I'm still troubled by this encounter, and it follows me to my bed that night as I toss and turn and remember a time many years ago when I came close to being raped in real life.  I worry about children playing these games:  I could have been a 10-year old girl.  For that matter the aggressor could have been a 10 -year old boy.  I worry that I should have noted the player's name and reported him to Blizzard.  But what would I have reported?  I suffered no damage, no loss, except to my self-esteem.  I did feel helpless, though:  in a normal battle situation I would have been able to defend myself with my armor and weapons and Mayana, my vicious cat.  It was the same kind of helplessness I felt years ago when the man I brought into my house wouldn't take no for an answer.  

Many years ago a friend of our family--my father's best friend, actually--sexually abused one of my sisters when she was still a toddler.  We didn't learn about it until she was a teenager, but I think of her now, lying in her bed, this man we all trusted fondling her while my parents play cards in another room, nothing she can do about it, she is young, she is a baby, he is a friend. An alcoholic, he will admit later to the deeds and express hope that he hadn't damaged my sister for life.  

I am an adult woman, I am playing a game, I will not be damaged by this cyberspace rape, unlike my sister.  But the encounter leaves me saddened and troubled, and once again feeling helpless.  We don't leave our shadows behind when we enter this other world.

Monday, January 5, 2009


Every year for as long as I can remember I've made New Year's resolutions. And have mostly kept them, at least for the better part of the year.  But by September or October I've often relapsed on a couple of them, so when I look at my past journals, I find myself making the same resolutions, year in and year out, for most of my adult life.  It's like I have this battery that goes and goes and then it runs out of juice and I don't replace it.  So I lose the same 10 pounds every first six months of the year that I then gain back the second half of the year and resolve to lose again the next January.  And I resolve once again to write more regularly and with more discipline.  And not to bite my fingernails, which grow the first six months and somehow disappear the last half.

In addition to the resolutions to lose weight  (translated in later years as "have a more healthy lifestyle") and write more, I also have social and spiritual categories that have varied a bit over the years depending on the situation:  I almost always resolve to make some small change to lessen my environmental footprint, to have more patience and be kinder to everyone I come in contact with, and to set firmer boundaries with my son or in some cases a lover.  I will be a better mother, I resolve, a better citizen, a better dog and cat owner.  

There are some who make fun of New Year's resolutions (almost every man I have ever been with),  but I like to think of them as annual opportunities for taking stock of our lives, for reflecting on what's gone wrong, and of beginning again.  It's like a new blanket of snow, a new narrative you can create to inspire and nurture your spirit.  I suppose my own resolutions are pretty boring; the only interesting thing to me about them over the years is how  my physical health and my writing health seem connected in my mind.  When I am not attending to my health I'm also not attending to my writing life.  Both take a kind of mindfulness that can't take a back-seat to anything else if you want to be successful.  So this year I've resolved to spend my first waking hours in the morning writing and working out, to remind me, in case I would forget, that I am both a writer and a body that needs to feel good about itself in order to write well. 

It's easy, as a teacher and administrator of a large writing program, to spend all my quality time with students and working on the program, and to push my own writing aside.  But when I'm disciplined I can spend that first lovely, pure hour after waking writing.  One hour a day, five days a week, is enough to produce a collection of poems or essays by the end of the year. Or a book-length memoir, which is what I'm working on right now.  

The key, I think, is to make small, regular, and disciplined changes, something writers and artists aren't always so good at doing.  But it works for me. Now I just have to figure out how to have a New Year in September so that I continue with all the great and small changes.


Sunday, January 4, 2009

Back from the Nether nether lands

I've returned from a two-week visit to my husband's birth-country, the Netherlands.  We spent most of the time visiting his mother in Jellum, a small rural town in Friesland, in the north of the country.  She is 87 and recovering from a hip fracture in a "care hotel" near her home there.  She's doing well and has a great attitude; I hope that if I reach that age I'll have such a positive attitude.  She's a poet, perhaps the most renowned living poet writing in Friesian today, and I love having a mother-in-law who is such a fine writer (though I can only read her in translation).  She speaks several languages, and her English is flawless.  The Dutch are known for their skill in languages--Teake, my husband, speaks six while I struggle to maintain a working knowledge of three, and have pretty much given up ever learning Dutch, although I did make a valiant effort at some point.  I just don't have enough shelves left in my brain, I think, for another language.

Teake was happy to be home, and it was good to see him so energized.  We took a few long walks and runs in the countryside where he grew up, which is mostly all farmland.  It smelled like shit, literally, because there was shit everywhere.  Teake loved it, taking deep breaths of it, ah, he said, this is home, this is what home smells like!  He is something of a connoisseur  of it, and can recognize regular cow shit, fermented cow shit, and distinguish it from sheep shit and the lovely pure smell of fermenting leaves.  I have a negative relationship to the smell of shit, remembering it from my days in Iowa when there were huge hog farms with lakes of it infecting the air.  But I have to admit this shit smelled sweet, and I wondered if I would ever come to love it at Teake does.

We spent New Year's Eve in Amsterdam with some friends, watching the fireworks along a canal in the eastern part of the city.  Fireworks aren't centralized there so everyone stockpiles them; it was lovely to see them flowering and bursting all along the canal, in the sky and reflected in the dark, slow-moving canal waters that remind me so much of my own low-land home, New Orleans.